Washougal fighter primed for heavyweight title shot

Prime Fighting 5 Saturday, at Clark County Fairgrounds

Washougal mixed martial artist Chris De La Rocha fights for his first professional heavyweight championship Saturday, at the Clark County Event Center, in Ridgefield.

The 6-foot, 4-inch, 250 pound, Washington State Department of Corrections officer challenges Matt Kovacs, of Everett, in the main event of Prime Fighting 5. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Fights start at 6 p.m. Tickets are $40 to $70.

“This wouldn’t be possible without the support of my friends, family and teammates. It’s been quite a ride,” De La Rocha said. “If there was ever something in my life I felt good about, this is it. There’s just something in me that says ‘keep going.’ I’m the one who has to show up to the gym. I’m the one who has to run up that hill. I’m the one who has to step in that cage.”

Kovacs stands 6 feet tall and weighs about 260 pounds. De La Rocha plans to use his height advantage while staying away from Kovacs’ left hook.

“If I see an opening, I’m going to take him to the ground,” De La Rocha said. “I don’t think he has anything to stop my ground game.”

De La Rocha battles for Progressive Jiu Jitsu. He has trained at the Vancouver facility for about 15 years, learning his craft from coaches Trevor Burnell, Ian Vossler and Steve McArthur.

“I fight for every single one of them out there,” De La Rocha said. “We’re a small gym. We live and die for each other.”

The 35-year-old father of three also fights for his family. His wife, Angie, is his rock. His two daughters, Kiersten and Carissa, play basketball and soccer. His 4-year-old son, Quin, is already asking Mom for a mouthpiece so he can train like Dad.

“For me, it’s showing them that hard work pays off,” De La Rocha said. “There’s nothing better than getting your hand raised at the end of the fight. Seeing your coaches and fans celebrating gives you a jolt of energy. After all the build up, sacrifices and everything, it’s just elation and happiness.”

Parents George and Susan are De La Rocha’s biggest fans. He said his mother was worried at first. After she watched his first fight, she didn’t think she had the strength to watch another. Now she’s hooked just like the rest of Washougal is for their hometown gladiator.

De La Rocha anticipates another loud cheering section Saturday. He has sold hundreds of tickets to friends and family.

“It’s going to be intense,” he said. “You hear the ups and downs. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you have to try it at least once.”

Just days away from stepping into the cage, De La Rocha is finding his comfort zone. This is the fight he’s been dreaming about his whole life.

“In the months and weeks leading up, the butterflies are fluttering. I wonder what could go wrong out there? Am I cut out for this?” De La Rocha said. “On the day of, I’m focused and ready to go. There are no more what if’s. It’s time to step in and do what I was born to do.”

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